Aug. 15, 2022

WHEN YOU CAN'T CHANGE IT-- LOVE IT

 Everyone wants nice skin, free of blemishes; skin that is smooth and even-colored. Knowing that I’m now lumped-together with a group called “older”---I still want to wear my skin with pride rather than hide it.

Growing up in the fifties, my friends and I were Sun Worshippers and took every opportunity to lie in the Sun for hours and bake.  Tanned skin was a mark of good health and beauty. It was also proof we were part of the “in” crowd---those who were “cool” to the ways of the world!

Until I left for college in 1956, I shared Life-Guarding responsibilities with my brother at THE RESERVATION---a private club with the largest swimming pool in Arkansas. My body was fully-exposed to the Sun all day during swimming season which usually began in May and ended in late September. Those were the days before sunscreen and other means of skin protection. Everyone lathered their bodies with baby oil-- lots and lots of baby oil-- and loved the glamourous look of a colorful tan. It was the fifties and no one talked about skin cancers or skin allergies. We thought about how healthy and “glowing” we looked--from head to toe.

It was the summer of 1953 when I noticed the little white circle on the side of my right foot. It was the size of a dime and--the deeper my tan--the more-obvious the white spot looked. My doctor told me it was like a birthmark and, because it lacked skin pigment, it naturally stood-out like a spotlight as my skin got darker.  When my tan faded, the little white spot became less noticeable. But, my acne improved with all the sun exposure so my foot’s little white circle was a small price to pay for a smoother-prettier face.

Over the years, the Sun chose not to treat me as kindly as it had in my youth. I lost pigmentation on both elbows, then the backs of my hands became “spotty” with loss of pigment.  While traveling the Great Wall, I faced an unrelenting Sun every day--all day--while the skin on my neck turned splotchy and uneven--in color.  I'd been warned that Menopause can drastically-change a woman's body and, clearly, my skin was "under-attack". 

I’ve studied Vitiligo for years and sought the help and advice of doctors from around the world. I tried medicine designed to re-pigment the affected areas--only to suffer serious side-affects that involved my eyes. Splotchy, unpigmented skin may be unsightly but--I refused to surrender my vision in order to  have skin that looked “more perfect.” Besides, in most every case of re-pigmented skin, the “fix” is only temporary.

Some people have tried having their unpigmented skin “tattooed” to match their regular skin color.  Unfortunately, skin color is constantly changing and---too often---the tattooed areas become more-glaringly out-of-place--with time. 

I never knew Michael Jackson.  I haven't seen specific photos of his alleged skin disorder but--he claimed that Vitiligo was the reason he lightened his skin so-dramatically. Whatever the reason, most dermatologists don’t recommend over-all skin lightening as a solution for Vitiligo. Treating the entire body with powerful chemicals to lighten a person’s skin color is extremely-risky. I wouldn’t consider it--even if I could afford it.

For years-- I used an all-natural walnut stain called “DY-O-DERM” to cover Vitiligo spots. The stain was manufactured in Texas and was available to every druggist in America.  The liquid stain was easily applied with a Q Tip and worked beautifully to conceal my unpigmented spots. Because it was a stain, the application didn’t rub off but-- instead--gradually wore off.

A Doctor in Memphis, Tennessee prescribed it for me in the early seventies and Dy-O-Derm became my life saver; it hid my secret, perfectly.  But--nothing lasts forever. Twenty years after I’d found the perfect cover-up, the Texas Pharmaceutical Company suddenly closed—and--- Dy-O-Derm vanished-- permanently.

For months I searched for a replacement. I tried everything but nothing came close to solving my problem.  My day of reckoning became the day I decided to expose my secret.  It became my most-teachable moment:

The year was 2006.  I’d been hired to teach DC History to boys---all less than sixteen years of age--all prisoners in the DC Jail. One of my new students, a young black with a defiant attitude, refused to open his history book.  Instead, he folded his arms across his chest and turned completely around, facing away from me and the other students.  Only then did I notice the tell-tale signs of Vitiligo on the tops of his hands and spotting both his arms.

Realizing this was a rare opportunity to start a dialogue with the student, I said “Marcus, I bet you didn’t know the two of us share something unique--something that very few people--regardless of skin color--will ever share.”  Marcus slowly turned, looked at me, and laughed contemptuously.

I proceeded to discuss Vitiligo--and its rarity.  I explained how the skin disorder is inherited and although it seldom causes health issues, the person with vitiligo must have the strength of Hercules to survive the stares and ongoing-questions from strangers.

 When I told Marcus it was a disorder that was linked to Michael Jackson-- and how the popular performer learned to "wear" it like a badge of courage--Marcus became interested in what I had to say.

Then, I showed some of my own Vitiligo spots to the class. I assured them Vitiligo was not contagious and--not deadly.  I suggested we forget our History assignments for the rest of the week and---instead---study Vitiligo.   I would share photos and facts about Vitiligo and we could discuss Michael Jackson’s decision to lighten the skin over his entire body.

By this time, Marcus was the center of attention--- a real hero.  He had developed a certain status---much-like a tattooed celebrity.  The classroom hour ended with everyone admiring Marcus’s Vitiligo spots.  Before leaving the classroom, the students voted to change Marcus’s name from Marcus Jones ---to Michael Marcus Jackson!

YES, I believe It's important to love-the-skin-you're-in---regardless of your skin color.

Simply, Sally